On the verge of Cohasset Dramatic Club’s 100th season, President Lisa Pratt wrestles with the future of live theatre

“It looks like a snapshot in time waiting for life again,” reflects Cohasset Dramatic Club President Lisa Pratt, as we spoke about what the future holds for live theatre and their highly-anticipated production of The Music Man.  The show was supposed to take the stage in March on the weekend Covid-19 shut everything down.

Sleepless Critic spoke to Pratt about live theatre, the history of Cohasset Dramatic Club, and how art makes a new start.  Cohasset Dramatic Club is hoping to present The Music Man in September 2020 to kick off its 100th season, but what it will look like still remains to be seen.

CDC's 'The Music Man'

Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Sleepless Critic:  I understand you are hoping The Music Man will arrive this fall.

Lisa Pratt:  I guess I’m hopeful but realistic.  From a parent’s standpoint, I only want to do what’s best and give everyone an outlet for a beautiful and wholesome show.  Literally every costume is perfectly intact and every dressing room is waiting for us to come back.  It looks like a snapshot in time.

Of course, there’s the financial fallout.  We spent all that money to put on a show, but didn’t sell a single ticket.  Not that theatre is a money-making venture.  We might lose more money producing the show than not, but the art is so important to put back on its feet again that we’ll do whatever we have  to do to make it happen.

It’s ironically Cohasset Dramatic Club’s 100th season this September and we had a bunch of plays in the talking stages.  We are scheduled to do Our Town because Our Town author Thornton Wilder portrayed the Stage Manager when it was first being produced in summer stock on our stage which was what Cohasset Town Hall’s Theatre space was before The South Shore Music Circus became their second venue.  It was necessary to have more space, so a family named Cook who owned that flat land in Cohasset, donated the land to let the people put up a tent for shows in 1950.  The summer stock circuit started in the 40s.  It was in and out of the Cohasset Town Hall for 10 years.

Our Town, a relatively simple show to produce, has a fairly large cast.  The town election takes place in that space.  It works for them and I think it is convenient to have the town officers have their own auditorium attached to them.  So, we would bypass a September 1 election and have Our Town before the November 3 election.  The final show and the end of our 2021 season would be in March 2021.

Sleepless Critic:  I was watching the 1962 film The Music Man a few weeks ago.  At one point in the movie, Robert Preston as Harold Hill was told not to go in that house and he replied, “Why?  Is it in Quarantine?”

Lisa:  Shut the front door!  Are you kidding me?  That is so funny.  We want The Music Man be a live event at this point.  It all depends if Covid-19 follows the right path to keep all of us safely sharing space and moving forward.  As much as I want it all to happen, I would be devastated if anything came from it and someone got sick.  What will it look like?

Sleepless Critic:  Theatre has transformed a bit as we’ve been going through what Lin- Manuel Miranda deemed “an intermission.”  Some theatres have just stopped and some have turned to other avenues.

Lisa:  I feel we have stayed in touch with people who have wanted to study scene work, choreography, dance, and vocal work.  In the spring, we created a program called, Live from the Living Room, a free virtual production with option to donate to Cohasset Dramatic Club and people did.  We did a special theatrical makeup piece created by Lancôme’s Cara Lee Chamberlain.  We have a great friend who is a professional dancer and choreographer for The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon in New York.   She also choreographed a large theatrical production of Matilda which took place at the Union Theatre in Minneapolis, one of the biggest regional theatres in the country.  She taught a choreography class and we had lots of young families virtually tune in.  We did that for about six weeks and then took a break to settle in a bit.

CDC's Live from the Living Room

Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

This would have been our 15th consecutive year of offering that summer theater education and performance program for kids ages 8-21.  One of the shows we got the rights to produce this summer is Les Miserables with age ranges from 14 to 21 years old.  We are excited we are not losing the rights and doing it next year.

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‘Les Miserables’ delayed to 2021 Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Cohasset Dramatic Club has been at the same place for 100 years and thankfully, I haven’t been at the helm of it that long which I think is unique.  So many theatres I respect are having a hard time and I am saddened every time a theatre is selling off stuff because they can’t keep it alive anymore or however it works at a professional, regional, or local level.   No one goes into this with the amount of time it takes to spend to do any less than the best they can with the resources they have.  For that, I am always buoyant when I see theatres at any level doing great things.

Whether we present our work virtually, in person, or on the town green with people sitting further apart from one another, the arts community is committed and alive and it’s so important for so many people to keep it that way.

I’m so proud of this organization that has been through good times and bad whether living on a shoestring budget or having the money to pay for rights for shows before they get to deadline.  We’re part of a community that I think we’ll survive.  If there is ever a person looking for a rocking chair and we have one, I’ll be the first one to say that you can come get it or I can meet you somewhere.  That’s the camaraderie of our combined love of art.

We can do this.  Theatre can do it.  It has survived through everything.

Click here for more on Cohasset Dramatic Club and its upcoming events.

REVIEW: Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston captures virtual musical magic with ‘Entr’acte’

Like many of us, I miss theatre.

When not working on the next house project, the last few months have brought many opportunities as an avid television and film fan to stream from home.  From Knives Out to the Netflix hit, To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, settling into the living room has been convenient and strongly advised.

However, theatre belongs in a separate category.  It’s not only the buzz of anticipation from an exhilarated crowd as the lights dim, but live theatre begins a journey into a different world upon a unique and dynamic stage as I let the new setting settle into my psyche.   Whatever may come of theatre over the next months or year, a live venue and the slow murmur as the curtain goes up has become more valuable to me than it ever has before.

Theatre has survived everything in history from World Wars to disasters to pandemics.  It has transformed and overcome every obstacle it has faced.  This time will be no different.  Ah, but that glorious feeling.

In the meantime, virtual streaming broadcasts have made their way to center screen.  New content seems to be popping up every day from theatre to music groups that are hoping to keep things afloat and longing to perform for an audience – even if it is one they cannot hear or see.   Some are short, some are interactive, and some don’t translate well.  Virtual award shows have also popped up in the last few months.

Perhaps I’m feeling more nostalgic than usual because each summer, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston sets the stage for a trio of summer musicals ranging from classic to contemporary.  This time last year, Sleepless Critic reviewed Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s musical classic, The Sound of Music.  It was a glorious production flanked with sprawling sets and an enchanting cast that left you humming the timeless soundtrack long after the show’s moving finale.  Click here for the full review.

Reagle Music Theatre The Sound of Music So Long, Farewell

Mark Linehan as Captain von Trapp, Aimee Doherty as Maria and the Von Trapp children

A few of The Sound of Music’s promising talent lent their voices to Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s live, theatrical fundraiser Entr’acte that premiered on Sunday, June 28 and is still available on Reagle’s website.   Hosted by Reagle veterans JT Turner and Mark Linehan and directed by Marisa Diamond, Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston lifted the virtual curtain and offered a glimpse of summer musical magic featuring a showcase of musical favorites, familiar local and renowned talent,  and some interactive fun while delving into Reagle’s rich history.

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston La Cage aux Folles J.T. Turner as Georges

J.T. Turner as Georges Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Among the many highlights were Jennifer Ellis who reprised her award-winning role in My Fair Lady with a soaring, blissful rendition of I Could Have Danced All Night.  The Von Trapp children from The Sound of Music delivered their own number and youth performer Kimora Yancey delivered a powerful rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been from Hairspray. Pier Lamia Porter, who has been doing her own wonderful charity work for Covid 19, also shared her flourishing vocals for If I Loved You from Carousel, Reagle’s premiere musical in 1969.  Scott Wahle brought his usual charisma for Music Man’s 76 Trombones, Leigh Barrett reprised her role for It’s Today from Mame, and Dwayne Mitchell sang, I am What I Am from last year’s La Cage Aux Folles.  Found Robert Eagle also shared some of Reagle’s vivid history.

Reagle Music Theatre Entracte performers

Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston’s ‘Entr’acte’ performers Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Beloved musical duo Sarah Pfisterer and Rick Hilsabeck were among the many presenters that popped up during the musical benefit.

Reagle's Rick and Sarah

Rick Hilsabeck and Sarah Pfisterer Photo courtesy of Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston

Reagle Music Theatre recently celebrated its 50th season and Sleepless Critic has cheered their outstanding work for musicals over the years such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, La Cage Aux Folles, Wonderful Town, Me and My Girl, and their annual show, ChristmasTime, which has become a traditional favorite.  Without these musical productions though the summer season and the live shows they put on throughout the year, Reagle needs support in order to keep going.

Virtually, they are all singing to that man, woman, or child behind the computer screen, phone, or on television.  While this is flattering, it also makes me a bit sad.  I miss hearing them sing while I quietly sing along, upstaging my performance in every way.  How I have missed most steps in the dance…but can’t see their feet.

From the heart thumping 42nd Street to the cool cats in Guys and Dolls to Singin’ in the Rain to their annual, stunning production of ChristmasTime, their shows must simply go on and spark another 50 years.

Click here for more on Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston located at 617 Lexington Street in Waltham, Massachusetts.  Their virtual youth theatre workshops are happening now and their second workshop session will start on July 20.

 

REVIEW: Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ immersive, haunting, and filled with holiday spirit

The Company Theatre’s haunting, immersive, and meaningful A Christmas Carol is a frequent holiday tradition with good reason.  So much more than the Charles Dickens classic, the Company Theatre calls on the holiday spirit through subtle nuances in story and song and the exceptional festivities only become more fervent each December it takes the stage.  Sure, the Company Theatre weaved in the holiday spirit in other December productions such as last year’s Charles Dickens classic, Oliver the Musical (featuring Matt O’Connor as Oliver who returns as adorable Scrooge as a young boy) but this thought-provoking tale of charity, compassion, and forgiveness is the pinnacle holiday treat.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol

Company Theatre’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ is sold out! Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

The Company Theatre presents the Charles Dickens classic A Christmas Carol now through Sunday, December 22 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  This show is sold out.  Click here for their recently announced 2020 theatre season and how to support The Company Theatre.

A Christmas Carol is the classic tale of Ebenezer Scrooge, a wealthy, penny-pinching old miser who has no use for Christmas until his past comes back to haunt him on Christmas Eve.

With LED lighting and cinematography, heightened special effects, singing Carolers flooding the aisles,  enviable costumes by Kathryn Ridder, and snow glimmering over that bright, familiar cobblestone street where Scrooge must face his worst fears, A Christmas Carol is certainly a feast for the eyes.  The uplifting overture, orchestrated by Steve Bass and arranged by Steve Rogers, is tinged in popular Christmas carols, a preview of the wealth of carols and additional songs added to this festive production.  Ding Dong Merrily on High, O Come O Ye Faithful, Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Joy to the World, and Noel are among the production’s musical highlights.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim as Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Bill Carter as Bob Cratchit Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman, The Company Theatre’s production of A Christmas Carol also sets itself apart by weaving in the beauty of the season within the excitement of its joyous ensemble cast.  Each cobblestone street character is as enthralling as the immediate cast, each with their own individual story and holiday motivation within the context of this beautiful London setting.  The action is so immersive that it can hide the immediate cast a bit.  One of the most endearing moments is the return of a lively trio running around the London streets holding up mistletoe for kisses as well as the uplifting and rollicking period dance numbers choreographed with style by Sally Ashton Forrest.

This production boasts a lively cast led by Phillip Hebert as miserly Ebeneezer Scrooge.  Hebert exacts Scrooge’s deep, searing signature growl, his sterling vocals cutting into the soul.  Scrooge toils, scowls, and his dire sense of humor is not lost on his cheerful and generous nephew Fred, portrayed with a crisp accent and inviting demeanor by Christopher Spenser.  In spectacles and a sour huff, Hebert is best in his dark gruffness. However, his overall interpretation becomes jollier as the show progresses as his arms stubbornly swayto the music, offering a lighter, increasingly heartening Scrooge.

Company Theatre A Christmas Carol Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Scrooge

Owen George as Tiny Tim and Philip Hebert as Ebenezer Scrooge Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford/Company Theatre

Bill Carter portrays humble, guarded, and sympathetic Bob Cratchit.  Hebert and Carter skillfully develop palpable tension as Carter, leery, speaks to Scrooge out of turn.  Kris Connolly portrays loyal and eternally patient Mrs. Cratchit.  Connolly and Carter deliver heartwarming scenes with their large, beautiful family including sweet Owen George as Tiny Tim as their voices lift for the bright and original song, Noel.

Adorned in a gorgeous lit crown and veil, Nicole Hall delivers warmth, yet a foreboding quality as the Ghost of Christmas Past.  Serene and gentle, she brings out the best in Scrooge’s curmudgeonly soul.  Majestic in a crown of holly and carrying a cornucopia, Dave Daly glides across the stage as charismatic, jolly and larger-than-life Ghost of Christmas Present and the equally endearing Mr. Fezziwig.  Lilly George and Brynn Hsu also shine as giggling Christmas sprites.  Covered in hazy light, Dan Kelly is remarkably ghoulish and crazed as Jacob Marley with some very impressive special effects.

Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol pulls off a couple of surprises to this classic tale in the finale, and cannot leave out Megan Boutilier’s expressive and hilarious depiction of The Laundress.  She is marvelous.  If the holiday season is not spreading the joy that is should this year, Company Theatre’s A Christmas Carol will certainly encourage that heartwarming feeling, indeed.

The Company Theatre continues A Christmas Carol at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts through December 22.  The show is sold out, but click here for their exciting 2020 season.

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s ‘Marie and Rosetta’ showcase one dynamite duo

From the first musical number This Train, it was easy to see that Greater Boston Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective’s Marie and Rosetta was going to be something special.  Lovely Hoffman and Pier Lamia Porter easily stood out as two of the three powerhouse voices that fueled the Ronettes in Lyric Stage’s recent eye-popping production of Little Shop of Horrors.  As impressive as they were in that show, they are a musical force to be reckoned with in Marie and Rosetta.

Directed beautifully by Pascale Florestal with musical direction by Erica Telisnor, Greater Boston Stage Company once again collaborates with Front Porch Arts Collective for the inspiring musical, Marie and Rosetta continuing through Sunday, November 10 at Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham, Massachusetts.  Marie and Rosetta is part of Greater Boston Stage Company’s 20th anniversary year.  Click here for more information and for tickets and here to learn more about the Front Porch Arts Collective.

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Pier Lamia Porter as Maria (on piano) and Lovely Hoffman as Rosetta (on guitar) Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

Taking place in the 1940’s, Marie and Rosetta is about a captivating musician and her first encounter with a young fan.  However, this meeting is so much more than it seems.  Nicknamed The Godmother of Rock and Roll, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, portrayed magnificently by Lovely Hoffman in a silvery gown, not only had an incredible talent that inspired everyone from Little Richard to Elvis Presley to Karen Carpenter, but also had a lot to say about the world.

Full of humor, tenacity, and set in her convictions, Lovely Hoffman’s Rosetta is a charismatic free spirit.  This role has more than a few dark edges, but Hoffman is an avid, lighthearted storyteller wise beyond her years.  Confident and outspoken, Hoffman has sweet and amusing chemistry with Pier Lamia Porter as shy, traditional, and sweet-natured Marie.  It is fascinating to watch them together as Marie’s nervous chatter is diffused by Rosetta’s sage advice.

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Lovely Hoffman as Rosetta and Pier Lamia Porter as Marie Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

During one of the shows lighter moments, Hoffman as Rosetta attempts to ease Marie’s nerves by assuring her blush brings what is on the inside out.  It is Hoffman’s frank optimism and electrifying, groundbreaking vocal style that make her such an appealing persona, especially through the soulful number Rock Me to the playful Sit Down to the insightful Gospel song, I Looked Down the Line.  

In a pink chiffon dress and ballet flats, Pier Lamia Porter delivers a brilliant turn as Marie and the perfect foil for Rosetta.  Marie takes on the soul stirring number, Were You There in a rich, traditional vibrato and always playing by life and music’s rules while Rosetta’s soaring soprano takes a more spontaneous turn.  Pier Lamia Porter also delivers a gorgeous, moving rendition of Peace in the Valley not to be missed.  There is a lot more to Marie than she lets on leaving plenty of room for the two of them to learn from one another.

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From L to R: Pier Lamia Porter as Marie and Lovely Hoffman as Rosetta Photo courtesy of Nile Scott Studios/Greater Boston Stage Company

While the two have little in common, they make a dynamite duet for rock gospel song, Didn’t it Rain and a powerful, rousing rendition of Up Above My Head as this powerful musical moves into high gear.

Greater Boston Stage Company and Front Porch Arts Collective continue Marie and Rosetta through Sunday, November 10 at Greater Boston Stage Company located at 395 Main Street in Stoneham, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and here to learn more about the Front Porch Arts Collective.

REVIEW: Poignant yet hopeful, Renee Zellweger’s star rises as ‘Judy’

Renee Zellweger has some experience as the underdog.  Before she portrayed Bridget Jones, the iconic character from the beloved Helen Fielding book, Bridget Jones’s Diaryreaders didn’t think she was the right fit for the film.  Renee isn’t British and she’s more glamorous than people imagined Bridget to be in the books.  Kate Winslet, Minnie Driver, and Rachel Weisz were among the British actresses considered for the role.

However, Renee Zellweger embodied Bridget Jones and although she ultimately won an Oscar for Ruby in the indie film Cold Mountain, Bridget became her most recognized role and she continues her role as Bridget in two film sequels.

I hadn’t established an opinion over whether she could portray Bridget Jones, having not read the books until after seeing the film.  However, I was among the doubters she could pull off Judy Garland in Judy, now playing in theatres.  Click here for more information and show times.

After seeing Judy Davis portray Judy Garland in the 2001 television mini-series, Life of Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows in which Judy Davis handily won an Emmy, it was difficult to imagine anyone else doing Judy that much justice.  However, Renee takes on Judy with surprising depth as a fading superstar who needs the prowess to gain back her former success.

Directed by Rupert Goold, Judy is a snapshot into the latter part of Judy Garland’s life.  She’s a woman hitting rock bottom as her dwindling finances make it difficult to support her children with an ex-husband weary of her less than stable lifestyle.  She is also an incomparable talent reaching for her former glory, despite the demons that have haunted her since childhood.

Judy Garland is also a bit of an underdog.  Legendary MGM studio producer Louis B. Mayer told Judy that there are prettier girls, thinner girls, and more glamorous girls, but Judy’s distinctive vocals set her apart from everyone else.

Renee is not unrecognizable as Judy as certain inflections still hint of Renee.  It is not a Judy Garland impression, though the makeup artists do a wonderful job of pouring Renee into Judy’s distinctive look.  Renee delivers a powerful, multi-faceted performance, singing every song in the film without lip syncing, especially in a lighter performance of Come Rain or Come Shine.  Her vocals may not be as extraordinary as Judy Garland’s, but she does capture her voice is a different way.   Renee depicts her prideful desperation with cynical humor, charm, and the loneliness Judy must have felt during this tumultuous time.

The film can be a little slow at times, but Renee is the reason for seeing this film.  Judy also has its poignant, tragic moments, but it is a loving tribute to a woman and her eternal search for happiness, despite the odds.

REVIEW: The 35th Boston Film Festival brought comic wit and moving narratives to Shorts Program I

Sponsored in part by Starz and supported by The Hollywood Reporter, The 35th Boston Film Festival had a lot to offer on this landmark year.  Though it took place on a gorgeous fall weekend, audiences gathered to attend the four-day festival that included world premiere shows and films (Whaling, American Tragedy and She’s in Portland), a wide variety of short films, and clever independent films from Thursday, September 19 through Sunday, September 22.

Some of the highlights included the US Premiere of JoJo Rabbit, the East coast premiere of Once Upon A River and A Hidden Life, and special event screenings such as NBC’s Bluff City Law and The Dog Doc.  The festival also featured powerful documentaries such as The Last Harvest:  You Can’t Grow Without Change and The Wild.  Click here for a closer look at the full schedule.

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The Boston Film Festival presented US Premiere of indie film, ‘JoJo Rabbit’ Photo credit to Fox Serachlight Pictures

The Boston Film Festival took place for the most part at the stellar Showplace Icon Theatre.  Located at the Boston Seaport and conveniently located at the Courthouse stop on the Silver Line, The Showplace Icon Theatre features state-of-the-art stadium seating with plush reclining chairs, a beverage holder, and a place for your popcorn.  Click here for a closer look at this amazing theatre and here for more information and tickets.

Showplace Icon Theatre

Showplace Icon Theatre, located at Boston Seaport. Photo courtesy of Jeanne Denizard

The Shorts Program I took place on day three of the festival on Saturday, September 21 and featured a dynamic group of films that ranged from heartrending to hilarious to the macabre.  It was a selection likely to appeal to everyone.

Boston Film Festival 'Class of 84'

Alex Salsburg as Mom and Harley Harrison as Mike Photo credit to the Boston Film Festival and Class of 84

Directed by Alex Salsburg and Joe Andrade, Class of 84 is a narrated animated short film that offers an amusing and clever angle on helicopter parenting.  Dr. Katz’s Jonathan Katz is involved in the project.  Through clean, colorful, and two dimensional animation, Class of 84 delves into the life of a teenager living with his constantly hovering, overprotective mother.  From eating raw cookie dough to crossing the street, Class of 84 has its share of silly moments, but overall a fun and interesting look at the virtues of listening to your mother.

Directed by Jon Bloch, Waiting Game takes a darker turn exploring a tough and complicated relationship between constantly worried and well meaning Kenny, portrayed by John Patrick Amedori and his ailing, frustrated father, portrayed by Bruce McGill as Mel.  It doesn’t take long for this meaningful short film to cause a lump in one’s throat.

Boston Film Festival 'Waiting Game'

‘Waiting Game’ Photo credit to Boston Film Festival and ‘Waiting Game’

Waiting Game is a relatable tale about how family can have the best of intentions and those intentions can end up getting misconstrued in the worst way.  John Patrick Amedori Bruce McGill deliver powerful and moving performances that can sometimes be painful to watch as they build a fragile, tension-filled chasm between them.  Waiting Game balances a few lighter moments between Kenny and sweet waitress Alyssa, portrayed by Dilshad Vadsaria.

On a lighter note, director Barbara Elbinger directs You Need Help, a heartfelt look at a retired married couple.  Featuring a fitting soundtrack, Fred, portrayed by Edmund Dehn, is a depressed husband who longs to put vitality and fun back into his life with his all too practical wife, Doreen, portrayed by Eileen Nicholas.   These two have a wonderful chemistry even when they do not see eye to eye and there is much more to these two than they seem.  To witness Fred’s unconventional antics in recapturing the joy in their marriage is worth the price of the ticket.

The Boston Film Festival The Seal

Shahana Goswami as Sheetal in ‘The Seal’ Photo credit to Boston Film Festival and The Seal

Directed by Richa Rudola, The Seal takes a look at Shahana Goswami as Sheetal, a woman haunted by her past when she receives a mysterious, sealed package.  Though the story is fictional, Director Richa Rudola was inspired to create this tale based on events she witnessed and experienced as a woman growing up in India.

The Seal delves into the struggles that keep people stuck in their pain, unable to move on with their lives.  As the haunting phrase, ‘Remember what Mama used to Say’ permeates Sheetal’s thoughts, she seeks comfort in caring, but shady Daquane Cherry as Ruben.  However, some of The Seal’s best scenes are in the unspoken moments, allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions.

Boston Film Festival 'Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story'

Photo credit to the Boston Film Festival and ‘Boy Eats Girl: A Zombie Love Story’

Director Sarah Gurfield puts a little love in a zombie’s heart in Boy Eats Girl:  A Zombie Love Story.  Zombies seem to be all the rage and a love struck zombie picking flowers can be humorous, but found these seven short minutes all too dark and grisly to muster adoration.

The Bigonia Garden, directed by Ron Goldin and based on Goldin’s own experiences, is a foreign short film that explores an unexpected connection between neighbors in war torn Ashdod in Tel Aviv.  As missiles are launched over their heads, Sound Producer Adam and neighbor Bar retreat to the stairwell in their building, the safest place during a crisis.  It is a snapshot into the lives of people who have no choice but live in the moment during a tumultuous time.

It is a beautiful, personal film and loner Adam, portrayed by Adam Hirsch and Bar, portrayed by Bar Ackerman, have compelling chemistry with an unpredictable conclusion.

Directed by Joel Marsh, A Valley explores a couple of adventure-seeking risk takers as they go on a camping excursion together.  It is based on a short story called The Marsh.  They make each other laugh, wax philosophical, and the film gives the impression that all they have is each other.  The film was a bit ambiguous and would have liked to have delved more into their relationship to give the film more emotional weight.

Boston Film Festival’s Shorts Program I also featured American Life and Heirloom, but were not reviewed.  Click here for more about this year’s festival and future updates.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Nothing small about Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s riveting ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’

Advice can be taken with a grain of salt (or sugar in this case), or it can change your entire life.  Open a window into the increasingly complex life of a busy advice columnist in Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s (MRT) ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos of My Big Fat Greek Wedding fame.  Based on the book by Cheryl Strayed, tactfully directed by Jen Wineman, and sponsored in part by WBUR, Merrimack Repertory Theatre continues ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 6.

Click here for more information and tickets.  ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ has adult content.

Tiny Beautiful Things cast

Shravan Amin as Letter Writer #3, Caroling Strang as Letter Writer #2, Lori Prince as Sugar, and Nael Nacer as Letter Writer #1 Photo credit to Merrimack Repertory Theatre

It is no revelation that everyone has their problems.  How they are handled makes all the difference. Sugar, portrayed with equal parts compassion and candor by Lori Prince, proves to be an insightful listener as she offers advice to captivating questions from the humorous to the harrowing.  Every issue presented is from real life letters from literary website, The Rumpus’s Dear Sugar and the Dear Sugars podcast exists on WBUR.

A captivating show from the start, ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ maintains its quick-witted pace as Sugar’s life unfolds while she offers advice according to her own life experiences.  Packing an emotional punch, Sugar jumps smoothly from topic to topic while handling issues from infidelity to abortion to suicide.  It is not without its uncomfortable and intense moments which widely contributes to this impressive play’s innate realism.

It is amazing the profound advice that occurs over laundry.  From an island kitchen to an outdoor barbecue, ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ features a layered, cheerful set by Tim Mackabee and Marie Yokoyama’s lighting provides a natural flow and warm atmosphere.  Combined with upbeat music between scenes, this production keeps the mood light despite some of its heavier, more thought-provoking content.

This tiny, stellar cast will reel you in and never let go, taking on a variety of roles with gusto and grace. Nael Nacer, Caroline Strang, and Shravan Amin all deliver mesmerizing, emotionally-charged moments.   The only identity that never changes is Sugar, portrayed with toughness and warmth by Lori Prince.  A woman who has a habit of accepting strange offers, Prince as Sugar is a discerning, yet mysterious soul.  Her gripping portrayal mixes lightheartedness, anguish, and humor into her raw, cynical, but nevertheless hopeful outlook at life.  Prince’s particular strength is her seamless ability to evoke a number of emotions in one line and her sound advice are words to live by.

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From Left to Right on phones: Nael Nacer as Letter Writer #1, Caroline Strang as Letter Writer #2, Shravan Amin as Letter Writer #3 and Lori Prince on laptop Photo courtesy of Merrimack Repertory Theatre

Life is full of complicated dysfunction.  Let Sugar’s advice be yours.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre’s ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ continues at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre at 50 East Merrimack Street in Lowell, Massachusetts through Sunday, October 6.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Follow MRT on Facebook for updates and more.

 

 

 

REVIEW: From the creator of ‘Riverdale’, Flat Earth Theatre delivers a bizarre and suspenseful ‘King of Shadows’

The theme of Flat Earth Theatre’s 13th season has been a thought provoking, mind-bending journey exploring the extraordinary in Delicate Particle Logic, the mythical in Not Medea, and now the mysterious and fantastical in King of Shadows from Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the creator of Riverdale. This season’s unique, message-driven productions bend reality to reveal a bigger picture.

As a fan of the twist-ending, they have been nothing short of fascinating.  Directed by Michael Hisamoto, Flat Earth Theatre continues King of Shadows through June 22 at the Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  This show may be haunting for children.

Flat Earth Theatre King of Shadows set

The setting of Flat Earth Theatre’s ‘King of Shadows’ Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre

Much like Riverdale, an ordinary setting withholds extraordinary secrets. Grounded in the reality of missing children in San Francisco, King of Shadows delves into the lives of four distinct characters, all affected by their dark past.  The haunting set and intimate, encompassing staging, especially PJ Strachman’s light design, Bram Xu’s sound design, Stage Manager/Puppeteer Amy Lehrmitt, and scenic designer Ryan Bates, create an immersive, unsettling atmosphere for what is about to unfold.

Compassionate and ambitious Berkeley graduate student Jessica, portrayed with finesse by Laura Chowenhill, may be in over her head when she meets Nihar, a mysterious, wise-beyond-his-years homeless teenager portrayed by Trinidad Ramkissoon.  Ramkissoon’s penetrating gaze and inquisitive nature give Nihar an edgy charisma.  He has a fuzzy past, but that does not stop Jessica from her perpetual desire to help others.

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Logical and protective policeman Eric Saunders, portrayed impressively by Matt Crawford, is suspicious that Nihar may have a dangerous agenda.  Crawford’s Eric is a great foil for Chowendill’s pensive and conflicted Jessica, setting the stage for some sparks.  Jessica’s resentful and impulsive younger sister Sarah, portrayed with sarcasm and sass by Abigail Erdelatz, is capable of anything as she longs for a different life.

Flat Earth’s multi-layered production, King of Shadows is best seen without revealing too many details.  Though it’s an increasingly outlandish tale, King of Shadows has more than its share of suspense, leaving the audience constantly wondering where each character’s loyalty truly lies.

Flat Earth Theatre - King of Shadows Trinidad Ramkissoon as Nihar

Trinidad Ramkissoon as Nihar Photo courtesy of Flat Earth Theatre

Flat Earth Theatre’s final production of its 13th season, King of Shadows continues through Saturday, June 22 at the Black Box at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Partially surrounded by a lush green lawn that gives it a campus feel, The Mosesian Center for the Arts houses a number of productions, concerts, and exhibits during the year.  Offering free parking and next door to Panera Bread,  Earful and Gilly Assuncao are among the featured concerts this month while The Wizard of Oz and the opera, La Cenerentola, are among the upcoming theatrical productions.  Click here to see all that Mosesian Center for the Arts has to offer.

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW: Greater Boston Stage Company’s intriguing ‘Onegin’ offers vodka, love at first sight, and a whirlwind of surprises

Combine an onstage rock band nicknamed the Ungrateful Dead with a storytelling cast in 19th century St. Petersburg, Russia.  Throw in love at first sight, a duel, add some vodka, and a few winks to today’s technology and it is quite the tale…and that’s not even the half of it.

Expect the unexpected at Greater Boston Stage Company’s unique performance of Onegin, a semi-interactive musical that blends the traditional with the contemporary in surprising ways.  It explores how far one would go for love while its rock and roll vibe and comic moments show it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Based on Alexandr Pushkin’s poem of the same name and Tchaikovsky’s opera, Greater Boston Stage Company continues Onegin’s United States debut at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham, Massachusetts through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Onegin - cast

From L to R: Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vlaimir Lensky, Music Director Steve Bass (on piano), Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin, Josephine Moshiri Elwood as Olga, Sarah Pothier as Tatyana, and Peter Adama as Prince Gremin Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Onegin pushes quite a few boundaries within its two hour time frame.  The show inhabits a myriad of genres and occasionally breaks the fourth wall, but underneath it all is a moving tale of love and loss and what it means when destiny is out of your hands.  The contemporary flair of this period piece may not appeal to staunch traditionalists, but the show has heart.

Katheryn Monthei’s open set design topped with sparkling brass chandeliers and silk backdrops mixed with Deirdre Gerrard’s detailed costumes and Ilyse Robbins’ dynamic choreography depict a romantic, yet edgy vibe indicative of this strong and versatile cast.

Onegin Lensky

Michael Jennings Mahoney as Vladimir Lensky Photo by Maggie Hall Photography/Greater Boston Stage Company

Opening with the rollicking number A Love Song, these singing storytellers describe a man irretrievably in love and one who is roguishly indifferent to it. Michael Jennings Mahoney portrays excitable and lovelorn poet, Vladimir Lensky.  Lensky could have been a one note character, but Mahoney gives him dimension and makes him much more than he seems.   He is taken with Olga, portrayed with complexity and practicality by Josephine Moshiri Elwood.  Enter Evgeni Onegin, portrayed with a deep vibrato and roguish charm by Mark Linehan.  Linehan is charismatic, but also possesses a cynical, world-weary look on life while Tatyana, portrayed with pensive idealism by Sarah Pothier, may just change everything.

ONEGIN at GBSC

Sarah Pothier as Tatyana and Mark Linehan as Evgeni Onegin Photo courtesy of Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots

A few highlights include Sarah Pothier’s commanding performance of Let Me Die and stunning performances of In Your House and My Dearest Comrade by the cast.   Expect the unexpected at Onegin and like this engaging cast, prepare to have a little fun.

Directed by Weylin Symes, Greater Boston Stage Company’s musical drama Onegin continues through Sunday, March 31.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Click here for a closer look at Greater Boston’s Stage Company’s recently announced season.

 

 

 

 

 

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s renowned conductor Cynthia Woods discusses ‘Angels and Heroes’ and describes her inspiration

On International Women’s Day, the Sleepless Critic pays homage to women who are making their mark around the world.  One woman who is thriving in the Boston area and beyond is renowned Cambridge Symphony Orchestra (CSO) conductor, Cynthia Woods.

Cynthia has toured around the world and put together Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s latest show, ‘Angels and Heroes,’ a one day only concert performance on Sunday, March 17 at Kresge Auditorium at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Click here for more information and tickets.  The Sleepless Critic interviewed her about her exciting music background, what inspires her, ‘Angels and Heroes,’ and her future plans.

Angels and Heroes

Photo courtesy of Cambridge Symphony Orchestra

Sleepless Critic:  Grammy award-winning composer Nan Schwartz has not only composed arrangements for Natalie Cole and is from a long line of women composers, but she has also created orchestration for several films such as My Week with Marilyn, Life of Pi, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, and Julie and Julia.  What inspired the Cambridge Symphony Orchestra to take on Nan Schwartz’s latest work, the 15-minute trumpet tone poem, ‘Angels Among Us?’  I understand this piece will be performed live for the very first time.

Cynthia Woods:  I met Nan Schwartz a few years ago and immediately thought her music would be a great way to broaden our programming.  I asked her to keep me in the loop about her works for concert orchestra and she very kindly did.

Simultaneously, I was actively looking for some fresh concertos that use the brass to break up the piano or violin concerto routine and found a great fit when I heard Angels Among Us.   Its beautiful lines and lush melodies evoke shimmering imagery and its rich, jazz influence brings a breath of freshness to the concert repertoire.

SC:  One of the featured soloists for the afternoon is trumpeter Joseph Foley.  He has performed all over the country and his first solo CD makes its debut this year.  How did he become part of this performance?  I understand this is a particularly challenging piece.

CW:  I knew I needed an exceptional trumpet player who was also very comfortable crossing idioms and had a range that went much higher than what is considered standard.  Joe, whom I have known for years, came to mind right away as the perfect choice.

SC:  It is easy to see why this performance is called ‘Angels and Heroes’ because Joseph Schwanter’s powerful piece, ‘New Morning for the World’ pays tribute to the great Dr. Martin Luther King, JrReverend Ray Hammond of Bethel AME Church will narrate some of Dr. King’s most acclaimed speeches.

CW:  As you know, Art reflects the times we live in and the struggles we face as a society.  I wanted to program something that reflected some of our current struggles we face while adding a historical context.  Schwantner’s brilliant ‘New Morning for the World’ was a perfect choice.  Dr. King preached hope and love and Schwantner represented that by using bold, fractured rhythmic cells to represent the unrest and despair of inequity against the soaring, vocal-like writing of the strings and brass.

The text is drawn from a series of some of King’s most famous speeches including ‘Behind the Selma March’ ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ and ‘I Have a Dream.’  We are thrilled Reverend Dr. Raymond Hammond is joining us to narrate these speeches and to bring renewed life and hope to Dr. King’s words.

SC:  The theme of this concert is using your voice to break through feelings of powerlessness.  Please expand on that.  I understand the pieces in this performance complement each other.

CW:  Yes, all the works in some way celebrate the human spirit and its ability to transform our lives for the better. The ‘Angels’ of Schwartz’s work are the ordinary people such as parents, teachers and friends, who, in the quietest way, change our lives for the better.  Schwantner reminds us while we may face many challenges and heartbreak in life, we must have hope for change ‘because the arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’ (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.). The Sibelius, which was inspired by the simple beauty of 17 swans soaring overhead, reminds us of the simple beauty and inspiration our lives hold on a daily basis.

SC:  You have worked all over the world.  Please tell me what first inspired you to choose a career in music and what has been your favorite career moment so far?

CW:  My parents enrolled me in a Preschool for the Performing Arts when I was three, and I think I have had the music bug ever since.  I have very vivid childhood memories from when my folks would take my brother and me to the local orchestra concerts, which were conducted by the pioneering conductor Catherine Comet. My eyes were glued to her and thought it looked like fun! My passion for music began early and never dimmed.

I have so many wonderful memories. One of my favorite moments might be our recent ballet production of Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream.  It ended up being everything I could have hoped for artistically as a synthesis of music and dance, two of my favorite art forms.

SC:  Is there a particular conductor that has inspired you over the years?

CW:  It’s hard to choose because there are so many wonderful conductors out there, but my favorite one would be Bernard Haitink if I had to choose.  He seems to overflow with music every time he performs.

SC:  I understand you conducted Conrad Pope’s The Little Match Girl, such a compelling tale. You also worked on Morgan Neville’s documentary on Amar Bose.  Please tell me more about that.

CW:  Two seasons ago, the CSO was very fortunate acclaimed Hollywood composer Conrad Pope agreed to write The Little Match Girl for us.  With youth runaways and homelessness at an all time high, we envisioned a tone poem outlining a story that is still very relevant today. Instead, it found its essence as a ballet filled with various scenes of our heroine’s life, from snow ball fights to teasing a grumpy old man to her vivid memories of her grandmother waiting for her in heaven.  Due to this evolution, both Pope and I hope to see it fully staged at some point in the future.

I worked with Morgan Neville on his documentary about Amar Bose filmed on location at various parts of MIT where Bose was a student and he designed where the CSO performs, the Kresge Auditorium.  Anytime you work with artists of different fields, it gives you a broader sense of your own idiom.  It was an inspiring and rewarding experience.

SC:  When you are not conducting, you are also a lecturer and writer.  Any new projects you’d like to let people know about?

CW:  We are busy planning lots of great things for our 45th anniversary season next year including a newly commissioned ballet of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. We also hope to commission a new work for our Family Concert series as well as continue to highlight diverse and relevant programming that inspires our audiences. I think it will be our most challenging and rewarding season yet.

Cambridge Symphony Orchestra’s latest show, ‘Angels and Heroes will be held Sunday, March 17 at Kresage Auditorium at MIT.  Click here for more information on Cambridge Symphony Orchestra and for tickets.